Dust off the ice chest, find your lawnchair and don’t forget the charcoa because baseball at Baum is back. The Razorback baseball team will begin its 2018 campaign with a three-game series this weekend against the Bucknell Bison.
I have followed Razorback baseball closely ever since the team’s appearance in the 2004 College World Series, and I can’t remember a time when there was more anticipation than this year. Razorback fans were excited in 2013, when the Hogs were ranked the preseason number No. 1 by most major polls, but excitement quickly faded when the team started the season 7-5.
This year seems different. The Hogs only lost seven players from a team that hosted a regional last year. Of those seven players, four were pitchers: Josh Alberius, Cannon Chadwick, Dominic Taccolini and Trevor Stephan. The team will miss Stephan in the starting rotation, but the coaching staff expects Isaiah Campbell to step into the rotation and fill Stephan’s spot nicely. It won’t be an easy spot for the redshirt sophomore Campbell to fill, but before he was injured last year, Campbell was expected to be the Friday night starter. If he can stay healthy, the Razorbacks will be deep as ever in the pitching rotation.
What about in the field? The Razorbacks will surely miss first baseman Chad Spanberger and his “berger bombs,” but the Hogs are the strongest team in college baseball up the middle. First base might be a revolving door until the Hogs find somebody who can hit and field the position well, but they will be able to rely on their depth up the middle. Catcher Grant Koch is a preseason All-Southeastern Conference First Teamer, while Jax Biggers was listed as an All-SEC Second-Team shortstop. Biggers double-play partner Carson Shaddy will be back for his senior season after not getting drafted as high as he wanted, Razorback coach Dave Van Horn said.
Then there is Dominic Fletcher in centerfield. It is no easy task to replace a Golden Spikes winner, college baseball’s equivalent to the Heisman, but Fletcher has done a phenomenal job in at the position.
The fans’ expectations of the team are high, but the team’s expectations of itself are probably higher. I asked every single player I interviewed during media days about the pressure of being ranked high in the preseason, and they all responded basically the same. They knew the expectations and talked about them, but they also embraced the pressure and knew if they wanted to reach their goal of Omaha, then they can’t let preseason hype get in their way.
This team will be good. They are on a mission to go further than Omaha. They want to win a national championship, and I believe they’ll do it.
The writing is on the wall — the Baum Stadium wall. Every three years since 2009, the Razorbacks have gone to the College World Series. In 2009, 2012 and 2015, the Omahogs lived up to their nickname and made it to Omaha, Nebraska. The year is 2018. The Hogs have players with experience coming back. Mix in some newcomers, and this team has the tools to be dangerous. So grab some peanuts, head to Baum Stadium and join in when the Hog Call rings out, because this team is destined to do special things.